Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Holiday emotions
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Halloween is officially over, Thanksgiving is on deck and Christmas is just a fleeting moment away! Are you ready?
I’m actually not talking about the actions of readiness, such as buying the turkey, preparing the meal, thinking of your Christmas list and beginning to make purchases. While those are certainly important, I am really talking about the emotional aspect of the holidays ahead. Are you ready?
It seems that at no other time of the year do our expectations soar to the greatest of heights than they do during the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Whether this is inspired by too many Lifetime channel holiday movies … or commercials on television with the delightful sights and sounds of happy families celebrating around the tree … or one’s own sense of longing for the exact manifestation of every holiday-related desire the person has had in his/her entire life, we can get caught up in needing everything to be just PERFECT. Too often, we go into the holidays thinking, “This year will be different.”
The single most important feedback I can give you to increase your happiness and contentment during the holiday season is to take a look at your expectations. A lot of our pain and disappointment can come from unmet expectations, especially if we have fallen prey to idealized expectations that perhaps magazines and the internet are “selling us” on what holidays should be.
The reality is that while some folks are fortunate enough to have healthy families that love to be together, many others have some type of dysfunction, toxicity, sorrow or frustration smack dab in the middle of the family tree. Some folks carry invisible scars and wounds from extreme pain and hurt suffered in the past.
While you survey your expectations for the holidays, keep in mind:
- If family members have locked horns for most of the year, it is not reasonable to think that merely sitting around the turkey or the Christmas decorations will magically erase hard feelings. We certainly can’t change our families, but we can adjust our expectations and not take responsibility for others’ behaviors or moods!
- Do it to BLESS, not to IMPRESS! If you are killing yourself trying to recreate the perfect “Martha Stewart Christmas,” you will be too exhausted to enjoy your labors. Arrange your expectations to bless your company, not to impress them! You then will have energy to spare!
- Recognize and honor your own emotions. If you have experienced loss or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal and expected to have sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or to express your feelings. You can’t force happiness just because the calendar shows a certain date.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. There may be no time or no way to accept all invitations and expectations of your time. If you truly want to enjoy the holidays ahead, be OK with setting boundaries and saying NO.
- And … if you want things to be different this year during the holidays compared to last year, be sure you’re focusing on changes that YOU can make, that are in YOUR control instead of hoping and wishing that other people will change. One of your relatives still might be negative, another might want to drink too much, another will complain about everyone’s contribution … but YOU can still maintain serenity and enjoyment!
Remember, being realistic is NOT pessimistic. It’s about learning what you can control and what can control YOU. Choose the former … get in the driver’s seat … and make this holiday season the best yet!